IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > A. Global and Comparative Dimensions > 1. New-Style Empires and States, 1500–1700 > d. The New Context of the 18th Century
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
d. The New Context of the 18th Century
Outside Europe, the older pattern of the rise and decline of major states continued, with the predominant gunpowder states entering periods of reduced effectiveness. However, in Europe, the development of the centralized monarchies opened the way for growing power at the beginning of the great socioeconomic transformations of early modernization.  1
NON-EUROPEAN EMPIRES. The OTTOMAN EMPIRE continued to be a major power but lost a series of wars and considerable territory, especially to Russia and Habsburg Austria. The administrative system and the military became increasingly ineffective as corruption and internal rivalries grew. Local governors in Egypt, North Africa, and the Balkans grew more independent, and attempts at administrative and military reform had little effect. Finally, a more comprehensive reform effort strongly influenced by European models as undertaken by SELIM III (1789–1807), but he was overthrown by conservative opponents of reform (See 1789–1807). The MUGHAL EMPIRE experienced succession conflicts and the growing power of provincial governors (See 1526–1761 (1857)). Mughal authority was seriously threatened by a revival of Hindu forces under the Marathas and the Rajputs and the emergence of the SIKHS as a new militant religious community (See 1500). However, the expansion of European powers brought the Mughal Empire to an end. Portuguese influence declined and was replaced by the growing power of the EAST INDIA COMPANIES (See 1761, Jan. 14) of the British, French, and Dutch. In a series of conflicts, the British ultimately defeated the Dutch (1759) and the French (1763). The English East India Company gained full control of Bengal and Bihar by 1764 but ruled in the name of the Mughal emperor. By the early 19th century, the British controlled nearly all of India. The formal end of the Mughal Empire followed a major revolt in many areas of northern India in 1857–58. The last Mughal was deposed, and in 1858 THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA ACT by the British Parliament created direct rule by the monarch of England, ending government by the East India Company and the Mughals. Other major non-European empires also declined during the 18th century. The collapse of the Safavid state in Iran brought a period of warfare and disunity to Iran. By the end of the 18th century, the Qing dynasty in China exhibited the characteristics of decline. The strength of the military was reduced; the bureaucracy became increasingly corrupt and inefficient. Large-scale revolts, like that of the White Lotus Society (1796–1804), emphasized the growing weakness of the empire (See 1796–1804).  2
EMERGING GREAT POWERS. Some states in Europe made an important transition during the 18th century to new centralized systems that could draw strength from the growing commercialization of society and the beginnings of industrialization. As a result, by the end of the century, France, Great Britain, and Prussia, along with the Russian Empire, displaced Spain, Habsburg Austria, and Portugal as major powers in European and global affairs. The Dutch Republic became a preeminent commercial power with large overseas possessions but was not a significant military presence.  3
ROYAL ABSOLUTISM was the primary force in developing strong central governments in some of the emerging powers. FRANCE was earliest, with the effective absolutism of LOUIS XIV (r. 1643–1715), but his successors were less effective and French monarchical absolutism came to an end with the FRENCH REVOLUTION, beginning in 1789 (See Overview). During the reign of Frederick II, the Great (1740–86), Prussian royal absolutism and great-power status were confirmed. RUSSIA modernization, centralization, and expansion in both Europe and Asia were strengthened by CATHERINE THE GREAT (r. 1762–96) as Russia became a major intercontinental power, with some overseas expansion into North America and northern Pacific islands. The AUSTRIAN HABSBURGS gained territories at the expense of weaker neighbors like Poland and the Ottoman Empire, but were less successful than Prussia and Russia in improving the effectiveness of their royal absolutism. The reforms and policies of Maria Theresa (r. 1740–80) and Joseph II (r. 1780–90) were not sufficient to create administrative unity among the scattered Habsburg domains. In SPAIN and PORTUGAL reform efforts by leaders like the Marquis de Pombal in Portugal failed to revive effective state power. In POLAND the state simply ceased to exist as nobles limited the ability of monarchs to institute reforms and Russia, Prussia, and Austria took control of all of Poland in three partitions (1772, 1793, 1795) (See 1794, March 24).  4
PARLIAMENTARY STATES. The centralized parliamentary state in ENGLAND provided the effective support for expansion. English colonial settlements in North America and the expansion of the East India Company in India created a global empire during the 18th century. After its successful revolt against Habsburg control at the beginning of the 17th century, the DUTCH REPUBLIC emerged as a significant commercial power. The Dutch created an overseas empire with holdings in North and South America, South Africa, and the Indian Ocean basin, especially in southeast Asia; its wealth made it an important political force in Europe. By the middle of the 18th century, it had become a minor European power and its commercial preeminence was lost to Britain, although the Dutch still maintained a small but important overseas empire.  5
“WORLD WARS” OF THE 18TH CENTURY. Many of the conflicts among the European powers involved clashes beyond the European continent. They were primarily European wars fought on a global scale, with two chief lines of conflict: the struggle for continental domination in Europe and the battle for control of overseas colonies and naval access to them. In the continental struggle, France, Prussia, and Russia became the great powers, and in global maritime empires, Great Britain was the major force. The European names of the most important global wars in creating this power structure are the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) (See 1701–14), which began the reduction of French power in North America; the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48) (See 1740–48); and the Seven Years' War (1756–63), which resulted in France's loss of most of its overseas empire in India and North America; finally, there were the wars of the era of the French Revolution and Napoleon (See Overview), which were fought in North America, Asia, and Africa as well as in Europe.  6
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.